Thursday, December 07, 2006

Don't forget Laikipia


Talk to a travel agent about Kenya and they'll all think of the Maasai Mara and Tsavo. Some may mention Samburu or Nakuru. But you'll be lucky to find one who's heard of Laikipia. Laikipia is the vast area of savannah and ridges north and northwest of Mount Kenya (the Google Earth view here shows Mount Kenya from the southeast, with Laikipia in the background). Ultimately it merges into the deserts of northern Kenya – the Northern Frontier District or NFD as some old timers still refer to it. Laikipia, roughly the size of Wales, has no towns, and few villages. In colonial times it was mostly ranches, owned by anglo-Kenyans. Local people – Samburu, Laikipiak Maasai, Kalenjin and Kikuyu – worked on the ranches or eked out a living between them.

Today, many of the ranches include wildlife conservation areas and encourage sustainable tourism. Local people are increasingly involved in their management and share in the revenues – though still not enough – and a body called the Laikipia Wildlife Forum coordinates land policy, marketing and conservation.

It's a wonderful part of the country, with plentiful opportunities for more unusual kinds of safari, such as walking and camel safaris, and fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities (that's a Von der Decken's hornbill – a pair of them came and perched outside our room for about 5 minutes – a lot of fun for a keen photographer). Elephants tramped by every day, along the valley in front of where the kids are standing. The six enormous rooms, completely open to the view and the elements, are ranged either side of the pool.

These photos were taken in and around Il Ngwesi, one of Laikipia's foremost eco-lodges. A large proportion of the places to stay in Laikipia make efforts to limit their environmental footprint and Il Ngwesi – owned and run by the Il Ngwesi Maasai (top right picture) on behalf of their 6000-strong community – has helped lead the way in what tourists want and what works in local conditions. They're okay with the infinity pool (recenty de-infinitized by the kids in this shot) so long as their own herds have enough to drink. And the $250 per person per night rate helps too.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Latest fees in the Maasai Mara area

Maasai Mara fees also went up, but in a somewhat confusing and complicated way. The reserve itself, south of the Talek and east of the Mara River, and the group ranch area to the north of the Talek, are still charging $30 per day per person. There is, however, no free movement betwen the two, as there has been for years. Now, you have to pay again! The Mara Conservancy, the triangle formed by the Mara river, the escarpment and the Tanzanian border, is charging $40. This information comes from Kicheche camp. They told me "Not sure how this will pan out in 2007 as there is a lot of politics ongoing. We have to play it by ear." Politics in the Mara? That's putting it mildly from what I've heard. But that'll have to wait for another post.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Bad news for your budget


National Park fees increased across the board last summer – frustratingly just after the latest edition of the Rough Guide went to the printers. But heh, that's what blogs are for, right?

The main parks raised their daily entrance fees from, in most cases, $30 to $40 for non-residents of Kenya, with other parks somewhat cheaper. Click on the table to view it more legibly (click "refresh" if you get gibberish).

And visit the Kenya Wildlife Services' very useful website for further details of camping fees and accommodation.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Good news on Mount Elgon


Lillian Nsubuga, writing in The East African (Nairobi) says Uganda and Kenya have recently allowed visitors to Mt Elgon National Park to cross the mountain's common border. Tourists visiting the park will now be allowed to climb Mt Elgon from either side. She goes on to say that more than 100 visitors have already made the crossing which previously involved making arrangements in advance with the park authorities. She reports the chief warden of the park as saying tourism authorities in the two countries had improved security to stop illegal immigrants from abusing the cross-border tourism facility.

The image from Google Earth shows Mount Elgon - a real giant in overall area, though not as high as Mount Kenya at 4231m, and below the snowline – viewed from a little west of Kitale on the Kenyan side. The white stuff? Clouds.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

From the Rough Guide coverage of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant and rhino orphanage


After many years of trial and error, David Sheldrick's widow, Dame Daphne Sheldrick, and her staff, have become the world’s experts on hand-rearing baby elephants, sometimes from birth, using a specially devised milk formula for the youngest infants and assigning keepers to individual 24-hour physical guardian-ship of their charges, a responsibility that includes sleeping with them in their stables. Without the love of a surrogate family and plenty of playtime and stimulation, orphaned baby elephants fail to thrive: they can succumb to fatal infections when teething, and, if they physically survive, can grow up unhappy and badly prepared for reintroduction to the wild. At the time of writing, there were nine baby elephants at the orphanage and two partly rehabilitated young rhinos who make occasional and brief visits.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Rough Guide Map of Kenya & Northern Tanzania


It's worth looking out for the new Rough Guide map of Kenya (1:950,000) which is printed on rip-proof, waterproof plastic paper and is (hopefully) very accurate. The map has just been reprinted with this new-style cover and incorporates many changes and updates on the original printing of October 2004. For example, the B3 trans-Mara highway which connects Narok and Bomet and allows much easier access to the western end of the Maasai Mara is included. We've also improved the accuracy of the roads in the Mount Kenya area. Throughout the map, isolated lodge and hotel details have been updated and information on Laikipia is much improved. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Maasai Mara


This cheetah was well outside the reserve boundary, in the vicinity of Kicheche Mara Camp. As seen in the BBC's Big Cat Week, there's still a lot of off-track driving going on in the reserve, and especially outside it, where many camp operators seem to think the issues of plant damage and soil erosion aren't significant enough to worry their drivers and clients about them. It's true that if you don't drive off-track, and never forge your own way off the beaten path, you will see fewer animals, at least close up. But it's best to avoid all off-track driving, especially if it's simply to explore the bush, rather than for a specific photo opp.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Google Earth in Kenya


If you haven't looked at Google Earth for a while, you'll find the Kenya coverage has improved somewhat, with hi-res coverage of greater Nairobi and good stretches of the coast, including Diani, Malindi and Lamu town, but not Mombasa yet. The sheer number of vehicles in Nairobi is astonishing, and all of them, it seems, white. While the relentless development of Diani is plain to see, you also get a clear view of which areas of Diani forest remain largely untouched — not many, but at least we can all see where they are now. Anyway, Google Earth is certain to become an essential resource for travellers scoping out their destinations, not least to check whether you're sharing the beach with just the other guests in your hotel, or half a dozen other establishments jostling for the same strip. The image here is of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant and rhino orphanage in Nairobi National Park. The satellite picture must have been captured between 11am and noon – the only time you can visit.